Herons, egrets and ducks: York students learn about birds at Kiwanis Lake

Alyssa Pressler
  • Fifth-graders from Devers Elementary school have spent the last year learning about local wildlife
  • The students helped count endangered herons and egrets on Friday at Kiwanis Lake
  • The goal is to foster stewardship among young students through the Audubon Society

A  group of fifth-graders from Devers Elementary School spent time at Kiwanis Lake on Friday to learn about the endangered birds that nest there each year.

This learning experience is planned through the York chapter of the Audubon Society, The purpose of the society is to educate local communities and plan events that focus on birds, wildlife and their habitats. This is the fourth year that this program has taken place.

Students  counted the endangered egrets and herons and saw the geese and ducks that nest at Kiwanis Lake, which is designated as one of the state's important bird areas  because of the endangered species that nest there. This time of year, many of the birds have hatched, leaving  eggshells on the ground and allowing the students to see the young.

"I liked when the white bird (egret) flew back and forth with wood for its nest," said 11-year-old Defyne White, who happened to be celebrating her birthday while on the trip. "I liked finding the eggs on the (ground) and seeing the babies."

Preparing: The kids have spent the entire school year preparing for this trip with Amy Weidensaul, director of community conservation and education for Audubon Pennsylvania. She and Kim Schubert, program coordinator for York's Audubon chapter, visited the classrooms once a month to teach the students about the birds, the Cordous Creek watershed and the overall ecosystem.

"I think it's important to connect what they learn in the classroom with something real," said Schubert.

Bradley Snellbaker, 12, pulls on rubber boots before taking part in a stream study in Willis Run, Friday, May 27, 2016. Fifth-grade students from Devers Elementary School counted nesting birds and pulled invasive plants along with the stream study.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Audubon works primarily with Devers and Ferguson elementary schools in York to educate fifth and sixth graders. The two schools are within walking distance of the lake, making the educational opportunity even more valuable for the students. This was the fourth trip to happen in the last few weeks.

Heather Myers, the fifth-grade teacher accompanying the class on Friday, said that teaching the students more about the park they so often walk by changes how they interact with it. After the lessons, she sees more students pick up trash or get upset when people aren't mindful of the area.

"This is their park; this is their city," Myers said. "It's cool that this is a protected environment and the kids can enjoy it every day."

Weidensaul agreed and hopes to continue to expand to other schools in the area after seeing how well the students have reacted to the program.

"They're the future," Weidensaul said. "You can see their enthusiasm; they're excited. They've been to the park plenty of times, but they haven't experienced it like this."

Excitement: The kids were certainly excited. There was not a dull moment Friday — the kids were running around, excitedly pointing out to each other the different birds that they saw and laughing at both the noises they heard and the occasional excrement that they saw deposited by the birds.

A great egret flies past students from Devers Elementary during an Audubon Society program at Kiwanis Lake, Friday, May 27, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

"My favorite part was when we saw the black cap night heron," said 12-year-old Genesis Rengifo. "They're nesting, and I like hearing the noises they make."

After bird watching, the students spent time removing invasive plants from the area and planting better ones for the ecological system. They also did a stream study, which allowed them to see what lives in the water and how that relates to the lake's health. Each of these lessons is important to build stewardship and foster a stronger connection among the kids to York.

"The goal is to make them care about it and be educated enough about the environment to make respectful decision in the future and take care of it," said Schubert.